Date: 16th December 2013 at 3:05pm
Written by:

When a goalkeeper is considered your man-of-the-match the only conclusion drawn is that his heroics prevented a loss and that’s what it proved with Ross Worner’s three cracking saves in the final minutes to preserve a point against Mansfield Town on Saturday.

Worner produced some out-of-the-drawer saves that frustrated the Stags and preserved Wimbledon’s first scoreless draw in almost 22 months and a continuing inability to put away lower-ranked teams.

Neal Ardley held his nose and called it a ‘horrible’ game, but praised his team’s resilience to hold on for a point against the Stags, who have now not won in their last 11 league games.

While the Dons have beaten teams 4-5-6-7 this season, they have lost or drawn to teams 19-20-22-23-24 — you can now add 17th-placed Mansfield Town to the depressing sequence.

But while Wimbledon may have helped play another team into form, Ardley gave a big tick to his makeshift team’s fortitude to grind out a point without some key personnel at Kingsmeadow.

Despite being without a match for a fortnight since the 0-3 debacle at Bristol Rovers, the Dons lost three players on the training pitch — Harry Pell (knee), skipper Alan Bennett (ankle) and on-loan defender Kevin Feely, who has returned to Charlton Athletic without making an appearance following hamstring trouble.

Sammy Moore was also unavailable as he served a one-match suspension for his red card at Bristol Rovers leaving Wimbledon’s midfield under-powered, which was to prove critical in the outcome of the match.

Ardley was forced to delve into his depleted squad and pitched diminutive Barry Fuller in at centre-back, deployed George Francomb in an unorthodox central midfield role and gave a first start since August for Charlie Sheringham, who joined Michael Smith in attack.

Significantly, George Porter was left out with Luke Moore preferred in a rare wide role. Was there a message in that for Porter, perhaps, from the gaffer? Petulant Porter still managed to get the only booking of the match in his 20-odd minutes as substitute.

The patched-up squad had their chances only to squander them. Probably the worst was Luke Moore’s one-on-one on Alan Marriott, only to tamely shoot against the goalkeeper’s legs.

Wimbledon’s inability to put away their chances almost cost them as the bigger Mansfield team came more into the contest in the second half and needed Worner to keep them at bay.

In the final 13 minutes Worner was called on three times to keep his goal intact.

He produced a superb point-blank save from Mansfield substitute Matt Rhead and it needed Worner to make an even better save seven minutes from time when Sam Clucas got on the end of Ross Dyer’s flick only to produce a brilliant a fingertip save from the Dons goalkeeper.

Worner then dived full stretch to keep out Ross Dyer’s powerful header to salvage a point for the Dons.

“Ross made three great saves though, which was really pleasing, and we did not buckle,” Ardley said. “We have kept a clean sheet and that was a positive after a difficult second half. We did not play well, but we stayed resilient. We have a group of boys who will give everything.”

Mansfield paid tribute to Worner’s work between the sticks.

“In the second half their goalkeeper pulled off three moments of brilliance to keep them in the game which frustrated us,” his counterpart Alan Marriott marvelled.

“Goalkeepers train hard all week, and the sort of saves he made is what you work on during training, so to be fair to him it has worked out really well for him today after making some fantastic stops.”

Manager Paul Cox says his side would have won had it not been for Worner.

“In the second half I thought there was only one team going to win it,” Cox said. “I don’t know whether it was world-class saves or poor misses, all three players did nothing wrong with the headers.

“I thought all three were in. I don’t know how he’s kept them out. I thought he was outstanding.”

The hard-earned point makes it 27 from 20 games — 18 from 20 this time last season — and bib-bobbing in 12th spot, six points outside the playoffs and nine from the relegation slots.

“I am not going to dress it up that we played well. It was a horrible, tough game,” Ardley said. “I thought that first half when we were brave enough to pass the ball, which we had been working on all week, we created some half chances.

“But in the second half they pressed us high and they did not let us play out from the back. It made it difficult because they were bigger than us all over the pitch. Paul Cox thought that he could expose our weaknesses because we were a bit makeshift and they bombarded us with long balls.”

It’s a flat spot in the season for Wimbledon — three draws in their last four outings since pasting Portsmouth 4-0 a month ago.

The transfer window is just over a fortnight away with some decisions for Ardley to make, if he is to press on and secure Wimbledon’s place in League 2, which he believes may need 54 points. If that is the case the Dons are halfway to that objective.

“Last season it looked as if 50 points would be enough, but this time I think it will need 54,” he said.

“It’s such a tight league, I`m done with looking ahead, and the sooner we reach our target, the more we can talk about other things.”

Written by Onyadon aka Rob Smith.

Rob writes the Wimbledon Downunder Supporters’ Association (WDSA) blog and lets us use this blog with his permission.

To view WDSA – Click Here.